Is F1 qualifying less important now than it used to be?

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The four flyaway rounds to start the 2013 Formula One season have produced three different polesitters and three different race winners. Only one polesitter, Sebastian Vettel, has gone on to win the race – and controversially so in Malaysia.

While Mercedes seems to excel on one-lap speed but has consistently dropped back in the races, other teams are tending to opt to set their cars up for the race rather than qualifying. Overtaking has certainly been made easier of late thanks to the 2013 tire compounds and DRS.

So does qualifying still matter nearly as much as it once did? Not so, according to Mark Webber, who was one of several drivers to admit their thoughts to Autosport.

“Qualifying has become less and less important over the years,” he said. “Back in the day it was everything really – it was 75-80 percent of where you come around on the first lap. Now it is less of a factor, but it is still important in terms of traffic. You don’t want to be sitting in too much traffic with the tires – they don’t like being in disturbed air and they wear a lot more.”

For Felipe Massa, qualifying still takes precedence – and not just because Ferrari needs to improve its average grid position.

“This is something we always need to work for,” he said. “Although we cannot make the car worse for what we have in the race because we need to be the quickest car in qualifying.”

Leave it to Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, to be as succinct as ever.

“It helps if you can be in front, to save your tires, and you also have less chance of having issues at the start,” he said.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.